By EDWARD HAVENS – Phil Hall’s new book, “The Encyclopedia of Underground Movies: Films from the Fringes of Cinema” is so much more than a cursory introduction into a world of moviemaking usually shunned by the major film distribution conglomerates and multiplexes.
It is a must-read and must-own tome for those who love cinema or want to become filmmakers themselves, chock-full of astute reports on unconventional movies for those looking for something fresh and unconventional, and indispensable knowledge for those who want to know what to do after they make their own movie.
If you want to be a filmmaker so you can be rich and famous like Brett Ratner, this is not the book for you. If you want to learn about the ins and out of becoming a mainstream director, Farber and Farber has a great series of books about directors being directors. However, if you’re on the prowl for new works of unique originality, full of feral, madcap, peculiar and frequently creative material, but don’t know how or where to look, Phil Hall is your perfect guide. As a contributing editor for Film Threat, Hall has spent much time hunting down the obscure and the forgotten, covering not only the films from underground filmmakers like Dorne Pentes and Nathan Bramble, or the actors like the talented and luminous Debbie Rochon, who has used her fame as a star from several Troma Films to help emerging filmmakers by appearing in dozens of projects who would never get seen without a name talent attached, but the long “lost” films from artists such as Luis Bunuel, Stanley Kubrick and Jerry Lewis. (Full disclosure: The writer of this review works for Troma Entertainment as well as the publisher of this website.)
The book is broken down into several sections, for easy categorization. The first, “The Artistic Underground,” covers dramatic storytelling from several angles, from on-the-fly adaptations of classic Shakespeare plays to bizarre experimental projects and truly queer cinema. “The Artistic Underground” also sets up the structure from which the other chapters will follow closely: discussions of several notable films and filmmakers in the specific field being discussed, followed by a glossary of how and where to find some examples of the best works in that field, and finishing with an perceptive interview from an exceptional artist. Other chapters covering individual genres include “Frantic Antics” (covering underground comedies), “Real Life/Reel Life” (documentaries), “Rod Serling’s Children” (horror and science fiction).
The second half of the book covers aspects of how the underground filmmaker can get their films seen, from the personal website and commercial sites like iFilm and UndergroundFilm to film festivals and film distribution. And that is where Phil Hall becomes especially inspirational. Even before reaching the final chapter, where he speaks with underground filmmakers who have gotten their works into commercial theatres and independent distributors who actively seek out up-and-coming artists, it was heartening to see the sheer number of titles who were able to get some kind of public exhibition, even if it was only one week at one theatre in New York City, including several whose reviews written by this author can be found on this site.
If anything, Hall will give readers so many films to discover and so many resources to inspect, they’ll possibly find themselves overwhelmed at first. Hundreds of films are fondly profiled with such direct articulacy, one will want to see them all, and as promptly as possible. This reviewer has possessed his copy of this book for several weeks before the writing of this review, and has frustratingly only touched on but a handful of the myriad of movies rundown here, but some of the movies discovered have been worth the search. Under the radar filmmakers have a great friend in Phil Hall, and one can only hope he will continue to help film fans find these hidden gems.
Phil Hall’s “The Encyclopedia of Underground Movies: Films from the Fringes of Cinema” is available directly from the publisher, Michael Wiese Productions. FilmJerk.com has not and does not receive any financial remuneration from the sale of this book.